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    Monday, December 11, 2023

    No. 18 Duke visits winless UConn in a tune-up before a showdown with Notre Dame

    Duke's Riley Leonard (13) looks to pass during the second half of a game against Northwestern in Durham, N.C., last Saturday. (Ben McKeown/AP Photo)
    UConn running back Devontae Houston (1) carries the ball during the Huskies game against North Carolina State on Aug. 31. (Bryan Woolston/AP Photo)

    East Hartford — Duke heads to UConn on Saturday for one of those games coaches love to warn players about.

    The 18th-ranked Blue Devils are chasing their first 4-0 start since 2018 and have a big game coming next week at home against No. 9 Notre Dame.

    UConn, on the other hand, has started 0-3 after a six-win season a year ago. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network) at Rentschler Field.

    It would be, as the cliché goes, easy for the Blue Devils to overlook the Huskies

    But Duke also started out 3-0 last year, then followed that by losing three of four.

    Coach Mike Elko has been pushing his team to think about doing a better job handling the middle chunk of the season.

    “Last year we didn’t handle that part of the season really well,” Elko said, adding: “I think we have an opportunity to show some growth here this week, and that’s the big challenge.”

    The Huskies also are looking back at last season, when they started 1-4 and then won five of their next six games.

    UConn coach Jim Mora, who like Elko is in his second season at his current job, would like to see a repeat or, at the very least, movement in a positive direction.

    “We're rebuilding something that we all know has not been great for a long time,” he said. “I don't think it's ever just a straight upward trajectory.”

    Duke opened the season unranked, but moved into the AP Top 25 after drubbing Clemson for the first time since September 2018. The Blue Devils have climbed to their highest ranking since reaching No. 16 in November 1994.

    Duke’s run game has carried the load, from QB Riley Leonard’s scrambling ability to the tandem of Jordan Waters and Jaquez Moore.

    Leonard has twice flirted with 100-yard rushing days (98 yards and a score against Clemson, 97 yards and two scores against Northwestern). Waters has scored two touchdowns in each of the past two games, while Moore (176 yards, two scores) has also been effective.

    There’s also the potential boost from Jaylen Coleman’s eventual debut after missing the first three games due to injury.

    As for UConn, quarterback Ta'Quan Roberson is hoping to play a second straight complete game for the first time since high school.

    The junior transfer from Penn State won the starting job a year ago, but suffered a knee injury on the Huskies’ second drive of the season. He lost a three-way competition for the job this season to Maine transfer Joe Fagnano, but got it back when Fagnano went down with a season-ending shoulder injury against Georgia State.

    In his first start of the season last week, the dual-threat QB completed 15 of 32 passes for just 170 yards and no touchdowns against FIU. He ran just eight times for a total of eight yards.

    Mora said they've been tweaking the offense a bit to better match Roberson's style.

    “I think we have a better feel now for what we need to do with him,” Mora said.

    <strong id="strong-09010fd9e1e64b3cbfd46eec72a1c5c9">UCONN vs. No. 18 DUKE</strong>

    Location: Rentschler Field, East Hartford

    Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

    Records: UConn 0-3, Duke 3-0

    Last game: UConn lost to FIU 24-17 Saturday; Duke beat Northwestern 38-14 Saturday

    Series: UConn leads 2-0, winning the last meeting 45-14 at Duke in 2007.

    Players to watch: UConn, r-jr. QB Ta’Quan Roberson (34 for 62, 386 yards, 3 TDs, 1 int.), so. RB Victor Rosa (28 carries, 150 yards, 2 TDs), jr. RB Devontae Houston (33 carries, 159 yards), grad WR Brett Buckman (a team-best 16 catches, 174 yards, 1 TD), so. TE Justin Joly (11 catches, 125 yards), sr. LB Jackson Mitchell (18th in the country in tackles with 30), jr. DB Durante Jones (12 tackles, including 15 solo), grad LB Noah Plack (20 tackles), r-so. LB Pryce Yates (24 tackles, 1 sack), r-jr. punter George Caratan (45.6 average)

    Duke, jr. QB Riley Leonard (44 for 65, 530 yards, 1 TD, 208 yards and 3 TDs on the ground), grad RB Jordan Waters (32 carries, 240 yards, 5 TDs), jr. RB Jaquez Moore (28 carries, 176 yards, 2 TDs), r-sr. WR Jalon Calhoun (14 catches, 182 yards, 1 TD), jr. WR Jordan Moore (12 catches, 160 yards, 1 TD), sr. LB Dorian Mausi (21 tackles, 1 int.), so. DB Chandler Rivers (21 tackles), sr. DB Jaylen Stinson (19 tackles)

    Noteworthy: Huskies 3-10 all-time versus ranked competition at home, with their last win over No 19 Liberty 36-33 last season.

    Quotable: “Regarding the start of the season, when you are rebuilding something that we all know has not been great for a long time, I don’t think there is ever just a straight upward trajectory,” UConn coach Jim Mora said. “My experience in coaching is that you are going to make some gains, then you will level off and might take a dip, then you build. Ultimately, this is a results-oriented business. We are judged on wins and losses. So by that variable we are not doing enough.”

    Four-down territory

    • UConn will face its toughest opponent this season. Duke is averaging 36 points, ranks fifth in the country in rushing yards at 242.7 per game and allowing 9.3 points per game (5th best in the country). Blue Devils are averaging 7.24 offensive yards per game.

    “The team we’re facing is arguably the best team we have faced since I have been here,” Mora said. “So it is a heck of a challenge for us, and it is coming at a good time coming off a disappointing start. So we are excited about it.

    • Offensive woes a major issue. Huskies won’t win many games if they continue to average 15 points, with 17 points representing their highest output.

    • Slow starts have hurt the Huskies, who led only once in three games and never been ahead after the first quarter. They have been out-scored 55-6 in the first half.

    • Now is the time for a turnaround to salvage the season. UConn has done it before under Mora, going 5-2 after a 1-4 start in his first season in Storrs in 2022.

    Extra points: Huskies have lost five straight dating back to last season. ... Running back depth took a hit with the departure of back-up Brian Brewton, who left the team and will enter the transfer portal. … UConn 7-23 all-time vs. Atlantic Coast Conference foes, including losing to North Carolina State, 24-14, in the season opener. … Duke’s 2nd-year head coach Mike Elko earned ACC coach of the year honors last season after going 9-4. … UConn will be wearing a special helmet logo in honor of the annual Huskies and Heroes Military Appreciation game.

    –Gavin Keefe

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